UConn lost to an unranked team this year – something that hasn’t happened for the previous 240 games. Later this season, it lost its second unranked game, which had not happened for 18 years. Looking nationally, 12 of the top 15 teams in the latest AP poll have three or more losses, which is much more at this point in the season than it has been in years past. In 2019-20, that number was six out of 15. In 2018-19, the number was also six. So what’s the cause? Let’s take a look.
This one is pretty simple. As is with all sports, as it develops and gets more attention, people will spend more time playing it and trying to make it big, using the sport as a catalyst. With women’s basketball, there are more paying opportunities than ever with NIL and increased pay in the WNBA. This essentially makes basketball a primary choice for athletic women trying to play sports.
We saw this progression already with men’s basketball. From 1960 to the present, the landscape of the game has changed tremendously. Between 1964 and1975, UCLA won eight championships and was completely dominant. However, the average 1970 NBA salary was $35,000 according to Forbes, which was barely enough to make a living off, even back then. Now, there have been eight different championship universities in the past ten years, demonstrating a great deal of parity. At the same time, the current average NBA salary is $8.25 million according to RunRepeat, which would put most NBA players well into the top one percent of salary in the country.
Women’s basketball is trending in the same direction. Between 2009 and 2016, UConn won six of the eight championships. The 2012 average WNBA salary was $72,000 according to Black Enterprise and now it’s up to $120,000 according to FanBuzz. Opportunity are increasing, encourages young women to pick up a basketball. The more people trying to make it to the league, the better the college game will get. Though it’s in its early stages, this virtuous cycle will produce great players and intensity in the game.
Another potential reason for the increased number losses could relate to COVID-19 complications during the season. The data for the women’s teams isn’t nearly as well compiled as that of the men’s, so let’s look at the latter for the moment. At one point in the season, above 35% of games were canceled because of COVID-19. The omicron variant had a big impact on taking teams’ flow away. In normal years, you always know who and when you’re playing, but when you’re constantly losing players to COVID-19 and a different set of people are coming to practice each day, teams can’t develop the same type of flow.
That lack of continuity can prevent good teams from being themselves because they can suffer losses to teams that haven’t had equally choppy schedules and bad luck. This could potentially explain the reason for more upsets, but then how did a team like Missouri – who was missing many players and only had seven available – beat a full strength No. 1 South Carolina squad? That falls more under the better competition folder. Women’s basketball is getting stronger, so sit back, relax and enjoy the sport growing before our eyes.